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Why the Kate Middleton video wasn't enough to quell conspiracy theories, according to PR professionals

The video, seemingly released to put an end to the "madness of social media," may have done the opposite.

On paper, it should have been the simple ending to the mystery. After months of the public asking, “Where is Kate Middleton?” came a video of the Princess of Wales, walking at a farmer’s market with her husband, Prince William.

The Sun and TMZ released the video a day after publishing a report that the prince and princess were seen shopping at an outdoor market a mile from Windsor Castle.  

The U.K. publication said, in a statement, it published the video “in a bid to bring an end to what the Palace has called the ‘madness of social media.'" Kensington Palace has not commented on the video.

But the visuals, seemingly released in an effort to quell online chatter, have also led to more of it. Conspiracy theories have taken off, with public figures like Andy Cohen weighing in, writing on X “That ain’t Kate…” Actor Sarah Paulson agreed, replying "factual" in all caps.

PR professionals aren’t surprised the video inspired continued rumors. The video’s efficacy hinged on public reception, Stacy Jones, founder of Hollywood Branded, says, and it was landing in a landscape of high skepticism. 

“In scenarios where skepticism runs high, any action can be scrutinized, potentially leading to accusations of manipulation or insincerity,” Jones says.

The video still leaves questions about Kate’s condition.

“The video doesn’t answer the underlying question of where this woman has been for a number of months,” Debra Caruso Marrone, president and owner at DJC Communications, tells TODAY.com.

Kate was last seen in public at Christmas. On Jan. 17, Kensington Palace announced Kate had undergone a planned abdominal surgery the day prior. The palace did not clarify why the surgery was needed, but said she would be hospitalized for 10 to 14 days.

Following her return, she was “unlikely to return to public duties until after Easter,” Kensington Palace said in a statement. The palace said in a Jan. 29 statement she had gone home to Windsor Castle and was “making good progress.”

Kate was photographed for the first time on March 5, in the front seat of a black SUV driven by her mother, Carole Middleton, near Windsor. Kensington Palace declined to comment on the new photos.

Still, as the months rolled on and William attended events alone, the public wondered: Where was the Princess of Wales?

The palace held firm on its expected timeline. “Kensington Palace made it clear in January the timelines of the Princess’ recovery and we’d only be providing significant updates,” a spokesperson for the princess said in a statement to NBC News on Feb. 29. “That guidance stands.”

Then came the now-infamous Mother’s Day photo, released on March 10, as per the royal family’s annual tradition. According to a statement from Kensington Palace, the photo was taken by Prince William the week prior. Within 24 hours of its release, major news photo agencies had pulled the photo due to discernible manipulation.

In a statement posted to Kensington Palace’s X account on March 11, Kate appeared to apologize for her role in the controversy.

“Like many amateur photographers, I do occasionally experiment with editing. I wanted to express my apologies for any confusion the family photograph we shared yesterday caused. I hope everyone celebrating had a very happy Mother’s Day. C,” Kate wrote in the post at the time.

Gracie PR founder Beth Booker sees the photo as the turning point in the public narrative about Kate's wellbeing.

“I think the moment (Kensington Palace) lost trust was whenever they published that initial photo that appeared to be doctored,” Booker says. “That started to question the integrity of the information that they were giving the public.”

It’s unclear whether the video was released in tandem with the palace’s approval, though Jones says the video’s emergence through the press “suggests a strategic move to indirectly address public concern without officially commenting on the situation.”

“This method allows Kensington Palace to maintain a degree of control over the narrative while avoiding direct involvement in the controversy. It’s a classic crisis PR tactic: show, don’t tell. By presenting a visual of normalcy and wellness, the Palace counters speculation with imagery that speaks volumes,” she says. 

The chatter could still be put to rest by visuals, but they would have to be different, clearer ones, Evan Nierman, founder and CEO of Red Banyan, a strategic communications and crisis PR firm, says.

“Let some photographs and videographers capture her walking around, looking vigorous, this whole thing goes away relatively quickly,” he says.

A statement about Kate's condition could be more helpful than visuals, Marrone says.

"What's important is saying the cause of her problem. This is communications 101: Be open and honest with whatever is happening, and determine or disclose what's being done to take care of the problem. And then people will stop asking questions," she says.

Marrone contrasts the rollout of Kate's health condition with the disclosure of Prince Charles' cancer diagnosis, which was "open and honest."

Nierman agrees that the "important question" to the public isn't about who doctored the photo or if it's really Kate in a video. "It's, ‘Is she OK? Is she well?’ If they’ll put her out and show that she’s doing OK, the important question gets answered and the minutiae around photographs fades into memory,” he says.

Big picture, Nierman says the palace seems to be operating with an “antiquated” PR strategy, more reactive to headlines than assertive about “steering a narrative.”

“I think if they’re going to move past these questions about Princess Catherine’s health, they’re going to need to be a lot more forward leaning,” he says.